Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland. But, when it’s found early it can often be cured. That’s why a high-profile campaign to encourage people to do their bowel cancer test has been launched.
The test is relatively simple – if a little unpleasant – but it can be done in the privacy of your home. In fact, everyone in Scotland between the ages of 50 and 74 is sent a bowel cancer screening kit every two years.
Hazel Barnes, 58, of North Berwick, is one of those who uses the free test when it arrives in the post.
“Both myself and my husband complete our kits every two years, for peace of mind and because we know bowel cancer can often be cured, if detected early enough,” she says.
Bowel cancer is one of the most treatable cancers. You are 14 times more likely to survive bowel cancer when it’s found at an early stage. It is more common in people aged over 50, especially men.
The bowel cancer screening test is the most effective way to find it early, as it can spot hidden blood in your poo.
Linda Brownlee, from the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre, says: “It’s important for people to know that they’re not alone. More people are returning their kits than ever before, giving themselves the best chance of survival, and even cure, from bowel cancer.”
Hazel can testify to the importance of the tests. “I know someone who was recently affected by bowel cancer – it was a wake-up call for everyone around them.
“One simple test, every two years could make all the difference. It arrives in the post, which is really convenient, doesn’t take long to do and could save your life,” she adds.
The current TV advert features people who do their test, including actress Carole Cassidy, who plays the lead character, Mrs H.
She is joined by a growing crowd while walking down her street – including a brass band and cheerleaders – all encouraging her to take the test when she reaches her house, in the privacy of her own bathroom.
Carole, 56, from Cardonald in Glasgow, has taken the test a couple of times herself, and thinks the campaign will get people talking.
“When I first received the test it took me a few weeks to do it, but I eventually got on with it and sent it away. It was great to get the letter back saying everything was fine.
“Doing the test for the second time was a bit of an easier process, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take it again.
“I think the idea behind the campaign is fantastic. It’s upbeat and energising with a positive message, recognising it’s not the most pleasant thing to do and reminding people over 50 that we’re all in it together.”
There are also a few famous faces in the advert, including comedian Fred MacAulay.
“There have been incidences of bowel cancer among my friends and family, and because of screening, they’ve survived,” he says. “I do my test every two years and personally think the screening we’re offered in this country is a great thing.
“I’d encourage everyone who is invited to take the test and hopefully this new campaign will help make that happen.”
John Wright, 64, of Drongan in Ayrshire is someone who credits screening with saving his life. He was diagnosed with bowel cancer in September 2007 after being called for further tests which showed two tumours in his bowel.
After being given the all clear, a routine check-up in 2008 showed another tumour and he underwent another operation and course of chemotherapy. Seven years on, he is now fit, healthy and enjoys an active life.
“If I didn’t complete the bowel home screening kit, my tumours would have continued to grow inside my bowel without me knowing,” he says.
“By the time I had symptoms it might have been too late to treat. I’m walking proof that home screening works so I hope by sharing my story, others will remember to get checked and send their test away even if it’s for peace of mind.”
The experts say that whether you decide to take part in screening or not, it’s also important to look out for the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.
Visit www.getcheckedearly.org for more information or call 0800 0121 833 to request a replacement screening test.
KNOW THE SIGNS
Whether you do the screening test or not, it’s important to look out for some common signs and symptoms of bowel cancer:
Repeated bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo.
A recent change in your poo that continues for more than four weeks without going back to normal.
Watery poo, on its own or with constipation (constipation on its own is less likely to be serious).
Severe pain in your stomach that won’t go away, especially after eating.
Losing weight without trying.
Feeling tired all the time.
Helpline: 0800 0121 833